Albania PM's brother denies Serbia's allegations he flew drone at qualifier
Albanian prime minister Edi Rama's brother, Olsi Rama, denied controlling the drone carrying a flag reading "Greater Albania" during Tuesday's Euro 2016 qualifying match against Serbia in Belgrade, he told the Associated Press.
Earlier in the day, the Serbian prime minister's office told CNN that Olsi Rama operated the drone, citing Serbian police. Rama responded by calling the allegations "absurd."
“They want to justify the situation that went beyond their control,” Olsi Rama said. “They seemed totally unprepared for an abnormal situation.”
He also said he was not detained by Serbian police, as some Belgrade media had reported, but his American passport was checked twice at the stadium during the game.
The match ended after 41 minutes when the flag was grabbed by a Serbia's Stefan Mitrovic. A brawl ensued between players, and fans stormed the pitch. The violent scene also featured flares and missiles fired from the stands.
CNN provided background on the incident.
Albania's first visit to Belgrade since 1967 was expected to be a tense occasion, though the events of Tuesday evening appeared to catch security authorities by surprise.
The "Greater Albania" insignia, which was attached to the drone, refers to the idea of an extended area in which all ethnic Albanians reside -- one which would include Kosovo.
The countries and peoples have shared a long, contentious history in the Balkan region and have often come into armed conflict, most recently in the 1990s over the region of Kosovo. Previously a part of Serbia, the region became an independent state in 2008.
Albanians claim to have a majority in Kosovo, and both sides continue to disagree over the country's allegiances.
UEFA president Michel Platini and FIFA president Sepp Blatter each condemned the incident. From the BBC.
Platini said he was "deeply saddened" by what had happened, adding: "Football is supposed to bring people together and our game should not be mixed with politics of any kind. The scenes in Belgrade last night were inexcusable."
Fifa chief Sepp Blatter said: "Football should never be used for political messages. I strongly condemn what happened in Belgrade last night."
UEFA announced that the Serbian and Albanian football associations will each face charges for the abandoned match.
Prior to Tuesday's match, UEFA advised Albania not to bring supporters to the game in order to avoid conflict. Serbia had angered Albania by mandating that fans provide their name, passport number and address in order to receive one of the 2,000 tickets the former was allotting.
- Paul Palladino